Wine isn’t necessarily the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Switzerland. Famous for its alpine treks, ski resorts and train rides – traveling to this central European nation is always a fun time. One way to relax in between your adventures is to stop by a vineyard and try some exclusive vintages. The best places to visit in Switzerland for wine lovers are plentiful and in this article we narrow it down to six for your choosing.
The destinations below represent the six main wine regions. With the Alps covering over half of all Swiss land, only a few remote pockets here provide fertile conditions for grapes to grow. They include Valais, Vaud, German-speaking areas, Geneva, Ticino and Three Lakes. Each of these zones boasts a certain style of viticulture. For example, Vaud is regarded as a strong Chasselas producer while the Italian-speaking Ticino is Merlot territory.
Depending on the type of wine you prefer and the attractions topping your list, specific regions might interest you more than others. Not everyone has the opportunity to explore Switzerland from top to bottom, nor for months on end, so utilize this guide to see where you can fit a bit of wine tourism into your itinerary (however short that may be). Plan a couple of rest days after those ridge hikes or ski runs, and let Swiss wine dazzle your palate.
6 Best Places to Visit in Switzerland for Wine Lovers
1. Valais – For Europe’s Highest Vineyard
Situated in the south, Valais is home to the Matterhorn and vineyards sprawled across the upper Rhone. A third of Swiss wine comes from Wallis (German word for the canton) and many of the varieties here fall into specialty categories. The pearl among these is Heida. Set at elevations between 650 – 1,150 meters, the vineyard at Visperterminen produces an aromatic white wine (Heida) that has become a global success.
The Heida grape, similar to Savagnin, has exotic and fruity aromas. Results are created by the clay and soils of Upper Valais, and the elevated slopes which get drenched in sun. Visperterminen’s vineyard is regarded as the highest in Europe. Other wine producers can be found in Heida Village and so touring the area is a must. Heida wines mature in spectacular fashion – ensure you buy a bottle and keep it stored in your cellar back home.
2. Vaud – For the UNESCO Vineyard Terraces of Lavaux
Vaud is located on the western edge of Switzerland, and is bordered by France and Lake Geneva. Two of the highlights in Vaud are Lausanne and Lavaux. The vineyard terraces of Lavaux have been a UNESCO protected area since 2007 and it’s easy to see why when you come here. These hillside terraces stretch for over 30 kilometers along Lake Geneva, starting from Chillon Castle and reaching the eastern outskirts of Lausanne.
Wine cultivation in Switzerland dates back to the Roman Empire. And while some evidence suggests that Lavaux began winemaking then, stronger proof supports the notion that it started in the 11th century. One of the best ways to experience this UNESCO site is to go hiking from St. Saphorin to Lutry – passing through the vines and wine cellars along the way. Lavaux largely produces Chasselas, characteristic of Vaud as a whole.
3. German-Speaking Areas – For Wine Tours Switzerland
Swiss-German regions comprise 18% of Switzerland’s total wine production. Spread out across 17 cantons, these states are divided into three areas in relation to viticulture: firstly Basel and Aargau, next is Zurich, Thurgau and Schaffhausen, and finally Graubunden and St. Gallen. Red grapes take a bulk of the share in German-speaking Switzerland, accounting for close to 70%. If you love Pinot Noir, then you should consider coming here.
A great option for those in Zurich is to get in touch with Wine Tours Switzerland. They offer the best wine tours in Switzerland and what’s better, their experiences run just an hour away from Zurich in the sunny Bundner Herrschaft, Heidiland and St. Galler Rheintal. Whether you want to go by foot, e-bike or be chauffeured in a minivan – winemaking secrets, wine tastings, regional specialties and spectacular landscapes await.
4. Geneva – For a City and Countryside Combo
Geneva has it all: access to the lake with the same name, headquarters to the World Trade Organization and World Health Organization, many languages spoken by its cosmopolitan locals, and some of the best shopping, restaurants and bars in Switzerland. Just outside the city limits is another reason to visit – vineyards and wineries set in the countryside. You don’t have to travel far from the Old Town to taste fine wine.
Chasselas is dominant in the Lake Geneva region but other drops can be found as well such as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Wine production in Geneva goes all the way back to the time of the Celts and for this reason it’s considered the first region of the country to dabble in winemaking. The slopes of Lake Geneva protect the grapes from those tricky spring frosts, meaning the microclimate here has always been a plus for viticulture.
5. Ticino – For the Best Merlot in the World
Following in the footsteps of its cousin in the south, Ticino is a prominent wine producer racking up 8% of the nation’s total. Due to its southern location, the weather conditions are similar to those in the Mediterranean – and we all know that high temperatures and sunshine are a vital nutrient for grapes. Over 80% of the vines bear Merlot grapes and the stellar vineyards in Ticino love nothing more than showing off a good Merlot.
Lugano is the canton’s top attraction as you could easily mistake it for being part of northern Italy. Italian culture is reflected everywhere in Lugano, from the architecture to the cuisine and of course its wine. Be sure to check out the winery called Moncucchetto – you will fall in love with her charm. In addition to relaxing in this town, don’t forget to time your visit for one of the wine-related events like the Cantine Aperte or Sagra del Borgo.
6. The Three Lakes – For the Charming Neuchatel
Lake Biel, Lake Murten and Lake Neuchatel make up the western region known as the Three Lakes. Together they span across five cantons. Lake Neuchatel produces two thirds of the wine in this area, with vineyards extending from Vaumarcus and Auvernier to Neuchatel and Cressier. The lake shores situated near the vines create moderate and airy conditions for grapes to thrive. Pinot Noir is the flagship variety in Neuchatel.
One divine creation stemming from Pinot in Neuchatel is the historic “Oeil de Perdrix” – a light rose which is just as popular today as it was back in the Middle Ages. Neuchatel township is a nice place to visit if you want to have a break from wine. The town is built in Jurassic limestone and has a French atmosphere to it. Visitors can explore the town, go shopping, swing by the cafes and restaurants, watch a film at a theater and join a boat cruise.
Wine Tourism in Switzerland is Booming
It was only a matter of time before the world caught on to the fact that Switzerland is one of the best wine destinations in Europe. With only 1% of bottles getting exported annually, many wine enthusiasts have been left in the dark about the sheer quality of Swiss wine. But with more and more labels leaving the country, and through word of mouth, oenophiles are now queuing up to travel to Switzerland and taste its collection of vintages.
There are endless ways to spend a vacation in this Alpine nation – and wine has to play a role. Imagine taking on the best hikes in Switzerland (such as the Hardergrat Trail) and recovering after each trek with a glass of Chasselas. Or warming up on the ski field with a splash of Pinot. More than just a drink, the culture of Swiss wine deserves to be investigated further. There is no better company to do that with than Wine Tours Switzerland.